Well, here is a little shout out to all of my Catholic, Judaeo-Christian friends out there. Now, I know that you have all grown up in the Christian bubble here on the West side of the world. However, I would like to open up your holy minds and hearts to another major monotheistic tradition that has existed for the last seven hundred years. Lately, its gotten a little bit of a bad rap due to a few “incidents” that have happened in the world. However, I would like to argue that Islam is a relatively peaceful religion that stresses human rights and justice in its teachings and origins.
First off, you need to understand the original context for the religion of Islam. The Prophet Muhammad grew up on the Arabian peninsula at a time of the Bedouin tribes. Each tribe had its own god or spirit and believed that its spirituality was superior to all others. The only way to keep peace between the tribes was to build a temple to all of the pagan gods in Mecca. This temple, or Ka’aba housed statues that represented all of the pagan gods. Here, the tribes would meet once a year to trade in peace. However, outside of Mecca, the tribes were fiercely independent, competitive and war like.
Women and the poor were given harsh treatment in this society. The poor were all together ignored and allowed to simply beg from one city to the next. Most tribes treated the poor, who had no land or animals, as objects to be ignored. Women fared even worse. Women were seen as complete property of families. Girls were traded from one family to the next as dowries for marriages. Unwanted daughters were often eliminated by burying them in the desert after birth.
Then, along came Muhammad and his received revelation of the Qur’an. Muhammad claimed to have received a revelation from God through the angel Gabriel. This revelation stated that there was only one God, Allah, who would unite all of the tribes. This undermined the Bedouin belief in polytheism. The Qur’an called for justice in the treatment of the poor, women and innocent life.
Muhammad returned from his retreat in the mountains and called for both unity amongst the tribes and a more moral treatment of the lowest members of the Arabian societies. The leaders of the Bedouin tribes saw Muhammad as a threat because he wanted to end the multiple gods that gave them their power. Also, he called for an end of the obsession with materialism thus ending their power and wealth. The leaders forced Muhammad into exile and he fled to Yathrib that was later named Medina.
Muhammad only became war like when the leaders of these tribes began to attack Medina. They saw that Muhammad had gathered too many followers. After several battles, Muhammad gained enough followers to return to Mecca where he easily captured the city. According to the customs of the day, he should have allowed his military to destroy the city, take the riches, rape women, and sell the survivors into slavery. Rather, he commanded them to respect the property of others, treat the women with respect, and destroy nothing. The only violence to property was Muhammad’s destruction of the statues of the gods inside of the Ka’ba. He kept the Ka’aba itself but made it into a shrine to the god of Islam, Allah.
There is an obvious question that should arise then. Why does Islam participate in all of the violence that we see today if its origins were relatively peaceful? Could it be due to the effects of the Crusades? Do we remember that Christian soldiers destroyed Jerusalem and murdered Jewish and Islamic people inside? Could it be due to the West’s interference in the Middle East? Remember, the US propped up Saddam Hussein in power during the 1980s. We still provide the weapons and aid that keeps the government of Saudi Arabia in power. And, they are just as brutal as Saddam or the Taliban to their women. Is it possible that our cultural values cause the misperceptions in the Middle East? We do seem to promote a culture that simply believes in power, acquisition of wealth, and the use of sex for any pleasurable experience.
How else do you explain the problems of violence and terrorism in the Middle East?